Category - Agile

09.06 20130

A Job Well Done…

By: michelemuse Categories:Agile

In a car race, the announcer always states, "Gentlemen (and now ladies too, of course), start your engines!"   There is a lot of excitement at this point...many hopefuls and anyone could win; however, who wins is really determined by the skill and techniques employed by the driver.  The race is long, and those prepared to adapt with agility to unforeseen circumstances come to the checkered flag with unprecedented success.
I know lots of people who pride themselves on starting things ...it is such a useless activity to start something if you have no follow through.  I know those with a tag line of  "I start things;" however, my tag line is "I finish things."  The heart of business value and value to humanity is in finishing things ...delivering.  I have heard sports figures boast about being "the mailman" because they always deliver.  We can laugh, but there is a lot of importance in striving to be the one that always delivers.  In business, we should set a goal of "becoming a mailman," a person who consistently delivers through tough conditions.  There is a saying that things are best at the beginning, but I argue that things are best at the end, when you can demo the value you created for the world .  Let's focus less on "starting-up"  and more on "finishing up".  The focus on Agile iterations always is delivering on ideas, not just the ideas themselves.  This focus on delivery lets companies continually modify ideas to turn them into something of value for the world that is released on a regular, frequent basis.
To reach the pinnacle of success, we must move past the excitement of starting to a point that we focus on the precision and hard work of execution.  For those who work hard and strive for excellence, "things are best at the end."  The proper business framework keeps us disciplined enough to not be distracted by the excitement of starting, knowing the real excitement is at the finish line.  For some, things are best at the beginning, and that is because they never reach a satisfactory end.  The excitement of beginning is fleeting... there is nothing more fulfilling than a job well done.

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09.11 20120

A Tale of Agility

By: michelemuse Categories:Agile

One of my favorite children’s books is called, The Three Questions, based upon a story by Leo Tolstoy.  In the story, a young boy wants to understand the best way to conduct himself and to find a way to always know the right thing to do. The boy wants to be good and seeks to understand (1) When is the best time to do things? (2) Who is the most important one? (3) What is the right thing to do? In the story, the boy first seeks advice from his three close friends, and then, after being given conflicting advice, seeks advice from a wise old friend to answer his three questions about life. The boy’s questions are universal questions, and we can draw parallels of these questions with those we ask ourselves as we go to work each day… how can I meet all my deadlines, who is the most important one to please of all my stakeholders, and how should I conduct myself at work?  There is much debate in the project world about priorities and how to set them for projects--- Should goals reach far into the future or be kept within a short window? Who should we work to please on our projects…management or the customer? How should we accomplish goals…by authoritarian means or with participative styles?  To address these questions, I have adapted this story to the context of the state of project management in companies today.  Here is the story as I tell it… Once there was a Project Manager who wanted to understand the best way to run projects and always do the right thing.  In order to select a methodology to utilize in his career, he decided that he needed answers to three questions:  (1) When is the best time to do things?  (2) Who is the most important one? (3) What is the right thing to do?  To obtain answers to his questions, the Project Manager asked three of his friends for advice.  The first friend was a project manager who relied upon traditional waterfall methodology.  The second friend utilized iterative development processes, and the third friend used scrum methodology. The Project Manager approached his first friend with the question of when is the best time to do things?  The first friend replied that to know the best time, one must plan in advance.  The second friend responded that to know the best time one must watch and pay close attention.  The third friend replied that to know the best time, one is not able to pay attention to everything himself so he needs a pack to keep watch and help decide what to do. For the second question of who is the most important one, the waterfall friend answered that the most important ones are the ones highest up in the organization.  The iterative development friend replied that the most important ones know how to fix problems, and the third scrum friend replied that the most important ones are the customers.  For the third question of what is the right thing to do, the first friend answered that it is meeting baselines; the second answered that it is having fun at work, and the third answered that it is following the rules. After contemplating his friends’ very different world-views, the Project Manager decides to seek the wisdom of a trusted mentor.  When he arrives at the wise mentor’s office, he finds his mentor writing a 4-year project plan for the implementation of a project supporting the long-range revenue objectives of senior management.  Seeing the tremendous amount of work laying in front of his mentor, the Project Manager begins to help his mentor with his work. As the Project Manager and his mentor are working on the project plan, a distressed product owner can be heard talking outside of the office.  The product owner has learned that a customer needs to significantly change the software that is being developed in the 4-year plan; the features being developed do not meet the customer’s needs.  The Project Manager rushes out of the office and gets the details and comes back, saying that the plan will need to change to meet the customer’s new requirements.  The pair immediately begins to work on a new phased development plan to address the customer’s desired changes, with the first phase being completed within the next 12 months. Again, a few hours later, the Project Manager and his mentor are interrupted by a commotion outside the office.  This time the Project Manager learns that the product owner just found out that the customer will not need the software that is being developed any longer; the competition has already built a competing product at a cheaper price.  The Project Manager returns to the office with the product owner and the development team, and the group sits down and develops a new minimum viable product that the group will test with the customer in two weeks. The next morning, the Project Manager was happy that he had helped friends but felt disappointed that he had not gotten the answers to his questions.  The mentor explained to the Project Manager that his questions were answered.  He explained that if the Project Manager had not helped the mentor with his project plan, then he would not have heard the product owner’s distress and not been able to help; therefore, the most important time was the time spent in the mentor’s office; the most important one at that time was the mentor, and the most important thing was to help with the project plan.  Later, when the Project Manager found the distressed product owner, the most important time was the time spent helping the product owner; the most important ones were the product owner and the development team, and the most important thing to do was take care of the customer and give them what they needed. The mentor’s wisdom, along with that of Tolstoy, was that “the most important time is always now; the most important one is always the one that you are with, and the most important thing is to do good for the one who is standing at your side.”  The story illustrates how our priorities must shift based upon the conditions under which we operate.  We must closely examine local conditions and determine what is the immediate need and act upon that need, always looking to be of assistance to those around us.  To achieve success, we must ever strive for goodness and usefulness in the present and adjust our thinking to current conditions.  We must shorten our time frame of thinking so that we can deal with the present conditions, and we must utilize collaborative leadership to serve the team that we are with, verses utilizing authoritarian power to accomplish outdated goals.  When we think in the present and give respect to those we are with, we are able to work to accomplish goodness with and for those around us.        

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11.09 20120

21st Century Learning

By: michelemuse Categories:Agile

What does it take to be successful in the 21st century? Daniel Pink predicted that it takes “a whole new mind.”  Our society has moved through several revolutions of thought related to business.  We began as an agricultural society, where farmers dominated the economic scene.  We then moved into the Industrial Age, where factory workers were the critical component of production.  With the invention and progression of computer technology, the third age became known as the Information Age, where knowledge workers became dominant producers.  Many people believe that we still live in the Information Age, but Pink asserted in his book A Whole New Mind, that we are at the dawn of a new age… the Conceptual Age, where creators and empathizers, pattern recognizers and meaning makers are at the heart of business production. Pink noted three trends that have moved our society towards conceptualization.  The first being that we live in a society of abundance, where choices are plentiful, and scarcity is limited.  We also live in a society where outsourcing is widespread, as is computer automation.  When we look to define a new business, we have to ask…can a computer do it faster, or can someone overseas make it cheaper?  Also, we ask, will this product be in demand in an age where consumers already have so much?  Pink asserted that with these factors in mind, our competitive edge must come from our creativity.  We must rely on creativity to differentiate our commodities. Pink asserted that our product designs must move beyond function to engage the senses.  Our products must tell a story, not just provide an argument.  We must create a product symphony, focusing on the big picture of the product, rather than emphasizing the details.  Also, in the Conceptualization Age, we must use empathy to engage consumers with emotion and intuition, rather than just hard logic, and bring humor and light-heartedness to business and products.  Finally, we need to make products that allow for meaning in the lives of the consumers. Selling to consumers in the age of an abundance of inexpensive and fast-to-market products requires a change of business practices to promote creativity.  The change in business practices that enables creativity has been underway since 2001, with the development of the Agile Manifesto.  Movement towards organizational agility involves developing a business practice of frequent delivery, with repeated evaluation of objectives and customer satisfaction.  The more creative and unknown the product, the more an organization needs to rely on agile practices.  Agile practices move away from a focus on processes, tools, documentation, contract negotiation and adhering to strict plans.  The agile focus is on individuals and their interactions, working products, customer collaboration and responding to change. At the Agile 2012 conference in August, I met leaders of CollabNet, a company founded in 1999, that helps organizations transition their cultures to compete in the 21st century by leading companies through agile transformations.  CollabNet Resources offers an abundance of material in regards to Agile and its implementation in organizations.  The website includes blogs, videos, webinars, case studies and white papers, all providing a wealth of wisdom to help an organization become more agile.  The site also hosts a free “Scrum Training Series.”  The company has a tremendous amount of experience providing in-person training, transformation consulting and Agile software implementation, along with providing hybrid cloud and devops integration services. “Futurist,” Alivn Toffler, stated, “The illiterate of the twenty-first century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.”  If you are feeling that you need to update your current business practices with a 21st century model that will help you become more innovative and stay closer in touch with your customers and ever-changing compliance rules, then you should learn more about agile practices. CollabNet is a great place to start your transformation.

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16.07 20120

The Fastest Learner Wins

By: michelemuse Categories:Agile

Remember that guy in school…you know the one…the one always with his hand up asking questions? When the teacher handed back exam papers, he was sliding back to his seat with a smirk on his face.  Where do you think he is now?  I bet he has his own successful "start-up."  Why do you think that is?  It is because the fastest learner wins.  The only way to learn fast is to figure out what you don’t know and ask the right people the right questions in the right way.

Increasing amounts of global competition necessitate that organizations, whether large or small, work faster and smarter and continually innovate. Traditional product development processes of developing a solid strategy and a good plan through extensive market research do not work for developing innovative solutions. Innovation means “who the customer is” or “what the product should be” is many times still unknown.  Planning and forecasting are only accurate when a product has a long, stable operating history in a static environment. The book, The Lean Startup, by Eric Ries, offers processes for innovators to address new market conditions.  The biggest danger for an innovator is to build a product that no one wants.  In order to build a product that customers want in a competitive timeframe, an organization must take hold of the idea of “validated learning.”  This type of learning helps innovators to build a sustainable business.  In this model, learning is validated scientifically by running frequent experiments to test each element of the innovator’s vision. In the project world we call this type of learning “progressive elaboration.”  Things become clearer as we go along, and we alter our course accordingly.  Changes can just happen to us, but we prefer to be a part of driving the process, proactively making those changes.  In his book, Ries promotes using the process “build-measure-learn” to gain “validated learning.” It is the process for turning ideas into products, measuring how customers respond and learning whether to “pivot” or “persevere” with the vision.  Good processes help to accelerate feedback and speed product development along. In the world of science, the process used for Ries’ “validated learning” is called the scientific method.  The innovative product development model can be defined in terms of the scientific method.  Business development makes observations about the environment and  formulates "questions" about the company vision, breaking it down into testable assumptions.   Business development then develops a "hypothesis" about a question, making optimistic or pessimistic assertions about customer behavior and outlines "predictions" of outcomes based upon what is believed to be true from what is currently known. Then, business development delivers requirements in terms of customer stories to the technical group to build a “minimum viable product” for "testing" how customers interact with the product to see if the hypothesis is correct and predictions are as assumed.  The key concept to note here is that the testing takes the form of a physical interaction with the product verses merely questioning customers about what they want.  Customers do not know if they want an entirely new, innovative idea; they only know if they like it and are willing to use it when they see it. Lastly, feedback is received.  Business development uses "analysis" of the results of the testing to determine the next steps.  One of three things will happen.  The product will go into a full-scale launch; the scientific method process will be reiterated with new assumptions based upon information learned; or the entire build will be scraped to “pivot" the organization in a new direction based upon customer feedback. The process requires a great deal of flexibility and an ability to move in a different direction quickly on the part of all groups involved.  In most cases, a technical group can build a product in any way desired; however, it is of little value to build a product on time, on budget and to business development’s specifications if the customers do not want to use the product.  The business development group has the responsibility to determine what the technical group should build.  The product the customers will use only can be known by continually testing what the customer will use so that the technical group knows what to build.  This is a continual learning loop of "build-measure-learn"  in which the fastest learner (company) wins. Everyday we are being tested by our customers to see if we are providing value to them.  In order to pass the test, we have to learn what we don’t know by asking the right people the right questions in the right way.  We need to be the fastest organization at learning from the customer.  When we take a look at the growth numbers of our companies, we will know if we passed the test.

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